The Clinton White House acknowledged Friday it sought and received more than 300 FBI files, including those of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Tony Blankley, former Bush chief of staff James A. Baker III and other prominent Republicans.
Republicans immediately denounced the White House, saying President Clinton’s aides misused the FBI to get information on political enemies. A top GOP leader suggested hearings were in order.
White House spokesman Mark Fabiani called it “an innocent bureaucratic mistake” and said there was no indication anyone reviewed the FBI background material.
But among the unanswered questions were who at the White House knew the files had been gathered and why they were kept at the White House rather than returned to the FBI after the error was discovered by a low-level White House employee sometime early in 1994.
The files - some 330 in all, almost all of them former employees of Republican administrations - were stored in the White House security office’s vault in late 1993 and early 1994, the White House said.
“It may take a hearing to determine if these were 330 innocent mistakes,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. “Such a chilling abuse of power would scare anyone who has ever registered to vote.”
The matter came up after Rep. William Clinger, R-Pa., revealed on Wednesday that the White House had obtained the FBI file of fired travel office chief Billy Dale in January 1994, seven months after he was fired. Clinger, whose committee is investigating the firing of Dale and other travel office workers, suggested Clinton presidential aides were trying to dig up dirt on the ex-travel office chief.
Then, on Friday, private Washington lawyer Randall Turk said an Army employee detailed to the White House had asked for Dale’s FBI file among hundreds of others because the Bush administration had removed all background records when it left office.
Turk represents Craig Livingstone, the head of the White House personnel security office, which was assigned the task of creating new files for all White House employees held over from prior administrations.
Relying on a Secret Service list of White House passholders that was apparently out of date, the Army detailee got the FBI records of many presidential aides from Republican administrations who no longer worked at the White House, Turk said. Among them were records on Baker and ex-press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
The Army detailee, Anthony Marceca, a civilian investigator, said Friday night that Clinton aides did not review the files he gathered from the FBI. Marceca said the Secret Service supplied him with a weekly list of passholders and he then submitted requests to the FBI for their background files. He said he was brought to the White House to help clear up a backlog of security work.
Fabiani said, “What we have here is obviously an innocent bureaucratic mistake.